Supervisors, Muni Operators and Riders Call for Rejection of SFMTA Budget

IMG_2012.jpgSupervisor Eric Mar. Photos: Michael Rhodes

In one of the broadest public organizing efforts around Muni in the past year, speakers from a range of groups — as well as several members of the Board of Supervisors — called today for the rejection of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) two-year budget, which includes 10 percent cuts to Muni service.

At a noontime press conference on the steps of City Hall, Supervisors David Campos and Eric Mar both supported rejecting the service cuts, as did representatives from groups belonging to a fledgling coalition known as Muni Operators and Riders Expanding Public Transit (MORE).

"I will not support a budget that includes the dramatic and draconian service cuts put forward by the MTA," Mar told the assembly, echoing what Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said yesterday.

Instead, said Mar, the SFMTA should develop a more equitable budget that isn’t balanced on the backs of Muni riders. That could include pushing several revenue measures for the November ballot, he said.

Campos said he didn’t wish to personally attack SFMTA management, but he’s unconvinced the agency has done everything in its power to find financial alternatives to cutting service or raising fares.

"We as a city need to make making Muni work a priority," said Campos, who’s working with Mar and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi to craft a ballot measure that would make several changes to SFMTA governance.

Coming on the heels of an SFMTA audit of work orders, Campos said an audit of the agency’s management would be made public in a few days.

IMG_2005.jpgEric Williams, a representative from Local 250-A, the Muni operators union.

A wide range of groups spoke at the event, including representatives from POWER, Chinese Progressive Association, Chinatown Community Development
Center, the Community Tenants Association, Causa Justa, Senior Action
Network, the Harvey Milk Club, and the Transport Workers Union Local 250A.

The list of demands put forward by MORE includes stopping the service cuts, seeking "progressive sources of revenue" — i.e. not service cuts or fare increases, ending saturation fare inspection stings by the police department, and not blaming Muni’s budget mess solely on drivers.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s name came up repeatedly in reference to that last item, because he’s pushing a ballot measure that would change the way Muni operator salaries and benefits are set. This afternoon, Elsbernd was out with volunteers at Pine and Front to gather signatures for the petition.

Eric Williams, a union representative from Muni’s cable car division, called that measure a "racist attack," targeted at the city’s most heavily black and African American union. Instead, Williams told the crowd, the SFMTA’s Board should carry out its duty to aggressively seek revenue sources outlined in 2007’s Proposition A.

But in a sign of just how complex the alliances involved in transit organizing can get, Elsbernd himself has not ruled out joining the opposition to the SFMTA’s budget. "I’m certainly not happy with a lot in it. There’s a lot to be upset about," Elsbernd said this morning. "Like everybody, I’m less than thrilled with 10 percent service reductions."

"I haven’t figured which way I’m going to go on it," he added.

IMG_1995.jpgSupervisor David Campos.

The Mayor appoints all seven members of the SFMTA Board and the two-year budget they passed last month mostly reflects his wishes. The Board of Supervisors’ six progressives, including Campos, Chiu, and Mar, are set to oppose the budget. As a sign that the Muni budget battle goes beyond the usual rift between
the board’s progressive block and the Mayor, some transit advocates hope to court Elsbernd and other supervisors who often vote with the Mayor

The Board of Supervisors would need seven votes to reject the budget, and must give the budget a thumbs-up or thumbs-down by July 31. Next Wednesday, the board will take a first committee vote on the matter. Yesterday, Chiu introduced a measure to reject the budget.

IMG_2007.jpg Chinatown Community Development Center’s Deland Chan and Community Tenants Association’s Donna Chan address fellow transit supporters.

Today’s press conference represented an especially broad coalition of groups, a tough challenge since different organizations often have plenty to argue about over transit, including whether to support extending parking meter hours, and the exact role of police on Muni. But opposition to service cuts appeared to be a unifying front.

As one Muni operator put it, Muni supporters need to "stop allowing them to pin us against one another like roosters in a pen."

To Dave Snyder, who’s coordinating the new San Francisco Transit Riders Union, the MORE coalition — and the support from several supervisors — was a hopeful sign.

"I’m heartened by, and supportive of, this activism from so many different quarters of the population of San Francisco," Snyder said.

  • So how many “muni rider groups” do we have now? 3? 4? More?

    I find it funny that “progressives” seem so interested in a) perpetuating the lie that SFPD does fare enforcement and b) supports fare cheats. If people didn’t fare cheat so much, the last fare hike would not have been necessary. Also: where was TWU a year ago? Two years ago? FIVE YEARS AGO?

    Nowhere. Silent. Did nothing. Oh except endorse Rob Black after one of their rude drivers (the ones TWU defends instead of the majority which are awesome) attacked Sup. Daly on the F-Line. That’s called a fail, folks!

  • Nick

    Just put on some blinders and it will all be ok. People won’t even notice how packed the MUNI busses are from the seat of their hybrid SUVs once they’re all wrapped around with advertising.

  • Muni

    I hope Supervisor Elsbernd comes on board. SFMTA needs to seriously take a look of what type of system its has, and to make appropiate changes. After SFMTA has it under control, then and not until then, they can consider other solutions.

  • Muni

    No need to blame each other, I mean, car owners, bus drivers, bus riders. A car owner may become a bus rider if the meter hours are extended, which would mean less meters revenues, less revenues from parking tickets and other car driving infractions, and more crowded buses.
    Bus drivers are also our friends and community fellows, and they are not to be blamed for the SFMTA deficit either.

  • Gneiss

    The progressive supervisors are disingenuous. What they are really talking about is putting new tax measure on the ballot this fall that hit property owners and car owners with higher taxes – not making any changes to Muni management or work rules. As has been said in the SF Examiner, Bay area transit is increasingly a bad deal for riders and taxpayers. Over the last 13 years, we have seen a 52% increase in costs, with only 16% increase in service, and 7% increase in riders. Something will have to give at these agencies if they want to keep their jobs and the trust of the public that our money is well spent.

    Let’s not balance the books of this inefficient system on the backs of city taxpayers and car drivers, yet again, with empty promising of “better service”. Transit advocates tried that before, and we got nothing out of it. I too support Sean Elsbernd over the 6 populous progressives on the board.

  • Mission Mom

    Any tax dedicated to the MTA would require a two-thirds majority vote. Good luck!

  • Alex

    Oh please. The TWU suddenly has the riders’ interests at heart? Bull. The last time Mister Williams opened his yapper on the steps of city hall he managed to propose eliminating transfers all together. If anyone actually believes that “riders and drivers” united B.S. I’ve got some oceanfront property in Kansas you might be interested in.

    If the TWU were really interested in supporting transit perhaps they’d consider going for dynamic outbound train assignment. Or maybe allowing part-timers to fill in for absent full-timers. Or something. But as long as the best that they can come up with is jingoistic excrement like “FIRE THE MTA” or “CHOP FROM THE TOP” they’re simply looking out for themselves again… riders be damned.

  • Alex

    Headlines from the driver’s PR group’s site (

    – May 5th: All Out Against Cuts and Hikes!
    – MUNI – Stop Reduction as “Cleansing” of Seniors and People with Disabilities?
    – Maybe Bus Drivers Aren’t the Problem
    – SFMTA CEO Nat Ford Lies to the Public!
    – Money for Healthcare, Jobs, Education, Public Services – NOT WAR
    – No Hikes, No Cuts!
    – Chop from the Top, Tax the Rich!
    – The government has plenty of money for peoples’ needs
    – Riding MUNI is NOT A CRIME!

    lol. Completely and absolutely devoid of anything constructive.

  • JohnB

    The immediate and obvious problem here is that the list of “demands” has already gotten too wide. Rather than focus just on the service cuts, they include evasion stings, drivers’ work rules, ballot initiative and a host of only semi-related things.

    So rather than focus on the cuts issue, they are now asking for everything, and meanwhile there is no budget.

    That’s what happens when you have a coalition of everyone, and all the usual suspects show up.

    Focus, people!

  • Will

    Alex… shills like you, mayor Newsom, Sean Elsbernd and all the corporatist suckers hoping to downsize the Muni Railway and bust the TWU are in for a rude check! Why? Because all your asses are hanging out and everybodys started to notice but you! Liars, weenies and whiners are no match for the San Franciscans who have relied on the Muni Railway for decades… not to mention the transit operators who make Muni service possible! Here’s a contructive idea: When the above group of business community serving transient politicians time out, you take a hike with them!

  • Michael, you’re right about the complex alliances. Personally I’m mixed about mine, because I want a rejection of the budget, and I also want to reform work rules as in Elsbernd’s proposal because I think it’s awful that they encourage absenteeism and I’m sick of missed bus runs. And I am somewhat for collective bargaining, but I don’t think it should have too much weight – of course it shouldn’t be heavily blamed on the drivers. But I think the claims of racism are unsubstantiated, and believe me – I’d be one of the first to look for such discrimination. But how can you challenge such a union that happens to have a high proportion of African-Americans, when they’re the only city union that doesn’t use collective bargaining?(if I’m stating that correctly)

  • And I think anyone in these groups who don’t support updating parking meter hours need a crash course in Shoupian theory…

  • marcos

    Any time that the Stalinists get involved, you’re going to see the needs of the activists for self satisfaction trump the what would objectively be the range of more effective organizing plans.

    The issue is not operator compensation. $60K or so is not an obscene amount of money to operate a Muni vehicle. Even Tony Hall says that cutting operator pay would leave us with even worse talent.

    The issue is how do we address areas of operations on which labor agreements and the charter are silent, yet which do not expand the envelope of the existing labor agreement? Currently, there is no way to implement a work rule, no matter how simple, without going to the negotiating table, where leverage is minimized due to the salary floor.

    So the TWU has a choice. They can take their salary floor and figure out how management can switch some chairs around the deck to make the system more efficient without having to negotiate wages or they can lose their wage floor and open up the entirety of their contract to collective bargaining.

    One example of a non-rule work rule is the Metro division, you know, the folks who pilot those 66 ton Breda streetcars down the rails. Currently, it is “not the policy of the Metro division” for operators to leave the terminals at the time on the schedule. They get to pick a time around the scheduled time when they desire to depart. Operators should not have that discretion, short an extraordinary circumstance, and they should not be demanding any other concessions if management decides that the streetcars will leave the terminals at the appointed time.

    The Stalinists will do their best Saul Alinsky impersonation, which is not so good and not effective. How’s that ANSWER strategy to stop the war and racism going 8 years out? They will paint the opposition as unmitigated evil while putting forth pie in the sky unrealistic and unreasonable demands, demands which they can’t and won’t put any political muscle behind short of whining.

    This is because the left is traditionally enamored with its opposition status, wedded to disempowerment and victimhood, and expects that marching in the streets alone coerces political change. So many of the left are unable to convince each other to agree on much that they have no chance to convince a majority of anyone else to side with them.

    As far as fare enforcement goes, last week I was taking a 14L inbound from 16th and Mission. There were 5 cops, 5 fare agents and 5 Stalinists from ANSWER at the stop. As the packed 14L stopped, the inspectors hit the doors, prevented anyone from boarding, and checked the fare instruments of all who deboarded. Before allowing anyone to board, they got on the bus and spent time checking fare instruments of all riders. They finally gave the all clear, and after a 10 minute dwell time the 14 Limited was underway.

    The conduct of the Stalinists is quite illuminating. Instead of boarding the vehicles a few blocks before the raid and alerting riders to get off a stop earlier to avoid penalty, they continued handing out literature urging folks to attend their rally and cheer their speakers.

    Given the choice between making a real difference in the lives of the working class heroes who ride Muni or aggrandizing their political project which ostensibly is centered around the vanguard interests of the working class, the Stalinists chose the big bronze statue.

    Surely there are better ways to enforce fares than to delay a fast bus by militarizing it for 10 minutes?

    The US economy has degraded fiscally such that we cannot afford new infrastructure and cannot afford to maintain the infrastructure currently in place. That should be changed. Until it is, the burden for financing Muni needs to rest equitably across those whose choices increase the cost of running the system and in the furtherance of other policy goals like transit first, reducing reliance on petroleum and preventing climate change. This means that in addition to a 100% increase in fares over the past 6 years, we need to see increases in parking fees as well as in tourist fees to finance the cable cars.

    Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Adam Smith and Emma Goldman agree: there ain’t no free lunch on demand–you’ve got to go out and take it.


  • But Aaron, we need the drivers or else the buses would be full!

    Like I’ve said before, I’ll vote for the ballot measure, but I’m not signing anything to get it on the ballot.

    The TWU is trying to save their own ass, but keeping them driving means there are buses on the road. The MTA board was charged with finding revenue sources which they have failed to do. Prop A brought in some money, but it also opened the flood doors for that money to be siphoned off to other city depts.

    Also, nothing will change if we don’t have (enforced) dedicated bus lanes, some (well thought out) bus stop consolidation, and some signal priorities. These are all low hanging fruit that the suits at MTA don’t want to address. Yeah, we need more money, but for what? If the system still runs slower then 8mph (or less now probably) then no one will want to ride it anyway.

  • mike – can you clarify your comment to me..?

  • JohnB


    The MTA were not specifically charged with finding enough revenue sources to ensure that Muni can operate at its existing level in perpetuity. I see no Charter instruction or voter mandate that expresses that.

    They are charged with running Muni within a budget. And since most revenue increases either require voter approval or risk a tidal wave of dissent (as with the ill-fated attempt in Oakland to expand parking meter hours into residential hours), it would seem that they are doing their job.

    If you think the MTA should have their Charter amended or be appointed differently, then you should advocate that change. But right now they are doing their job required of them i.e. living within their budget.

  • I was being sarcastic per Muni’s comment up above with respect to your comment on parking. Muni was saying we shouldn’t attack car drivers because if they weren’t driving they’d make the buses that much more full. Implying we should get off the bus and wave thank you to the cars that are clogging our streets and polluting our air for not making our bus trip less crowded.

  • Matt

    Racist? Blaming Muni’s budget woes on the operators and their flagrant abuse of the system is now racist? What about the fact that Muni operators have their high pay built into the City Charter? Isn’t that a form of racial preference?

    This gets me so mad as a person of color. The word “racist” should be reserved for things that are actually racist. The only thing racist here is the notion that Muni drivers deserve special compensation because they’re predominately black and Latino.

    I was on the fence for Supervisor Elsbernd’s ballot measure, but now you can count me in. The ridiculous transit union needs to be taken down a fat notch.

  • JohnB, I refuse to debate with you further.

  • Alex

    @Will Unfortunately for you I’m neither a shill nor someone with patience for the TWU. I’ve given you two examples of work rules that hurt the riders directly. I’ve given you one example of how the TWU has lobbied for things that are orthogonal to the riders’ interests. If the best you can do is to call me a shill, good luck.

    You’ve got every right to demand your wages and be unyielding in work rules. That’s why I agree with Elsbernd. It’s not that $60,000 is excessive, but it’s not even a negotiation anymore. Hell it wasn’t so long ago that the TWU was negotiating their own safety rules! But, hey, good luck with your unyielding position. I hear that tactic worked well for the UAW.

    @mikesonn While I agree that parking rates ought to be more flexible (increased in most cases)… the MTA isn’t even looking at funding that doesn’t hurt drivers. Their tiered monthly passes are setup to encourage people to pay less for service that costs the MTA significantly more. Or how about street cleaning. Why is Nat Ford not lobbying DPW to roll back the street cleaning cuts? Said cuts have cost the MTA about $4mil/yr. Oh. Right…. yeah.